Vote None-of-the-Above – Restore Public Control of the Political Agenda

Vote None-of-the-Above – Restore Public Control of the Political Agenda

It is too late for the current federal election, but a simple refinement to our electoral system could result in bringing more democracy to the Canadian political system, increase voter turnout, bring back control of the political agenda to the public, and ensure that individual members of parliament are more accountable to the needs and wishes of their constituents.

The key, of course, is whether MPs from all parties, especially those with the party in power, would have the courage to enact the required legislation, which could easily be applied to provinces, territories and municipalities.

I propose that an additional selection be automatically added to the ballot. Therefore, along with the Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Bloc Québécois and Green Party candidates, electors should have the option of voting for “None-of-the-Above” (NOTA).

Should a NOTA option receive more than 40-per-cent of the vote, then a new election would take place shortly afterwards – with the proviso that all the previous candidates in that race be barred from entering that election or to run in other ridings facing similar circumstances.

However, in the second election, there would not be a NOTA option and the results would be binding. This eliminates the need for recall legislation, but also ensures that incumbents, especially those considered to be “trained seals,” cannot coast to re-election as is currently the case.

It would also provide an opportunity to place the prime minister, leader of the opposition, and leaders of the other opposition parties, on trial for their very political lives. Thus Stephen Harper would have to run on his record and face the possibility of being defeated and at the same time, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau would have to live with the consequences of having his party support bill C-51 –the so-called conservative anti-terrorism bill that violates rights and freedoms, and NDP leader would have to face judgment for his party’s support of the Energy East pipeline that would carry tar sands oil.

In Jean Charest’s last election, he lost his Sherbrooke seat and Premier Robert Bourassa also won an election, but lost his individual seat. Cabinet ministers should also face the scrutiny of their actions and comments, for they represent the prime minister and his policies and ultimately, it is the PM who has the final word on all decisions.

As many know, far too many ineffective MPs sit in the House of Commons and many who desire to be effective, are forced to remain silent for the sake of party unity or are given rewards in order to stay quiet and to not rock the boat.

In order to qualify for a pension-for-life, MPs must serve a minimum of six years in the Commons and have successfully run in two elections. Hence, many MPs – Conservatives and Liberals, have easily qualified for their minimum pensions and know that the longer they remain in the Commons, the sweeter their pension shall be. Many newly elected NDP MPs, especially in Quebec, will qualify for their pensions-for-life should they be re-elected. Have they been effective in representing their constituents?

All MPs should face the full scrutiny of the voters and at the same time, those who have passed the test of holding public office should be rewarded for their dedication. There are many good MPs in Canada and we need more of them.

The majority of our elected MPs have secured their pensions. In the past, proposals have been made to eliminate the pension system completely by increasing MP salaries.

But as mentioned previously, this proposal is more about revitalizing the Canadian democratic system. Voter turnout has been steadily declining and in a City of Montreal election held several years ago, only 35-per-cent of eligible voters bothered to cast their ballots.

In Australia it is a crime to not vote in an election. I totally disagree with that legislation because it is undemocratic. Should I be unhappy with the options on the ballot, there is no way to register a protest other than spoiling the ballot and the way that spoiled ballots are counted and viewed, it is impossible to read any political messages in them. Having the None-of-the-Above option would mark a return of some political power to the individual elector and if enough people believe that their votes can make an actual difference, it could spark a veritable revolution in voter turnout and the accountability of the political class to the public.

When Canadians vote in a majority government, they are essentially putting in place a four or five-year dictatorship. For many this is considered to be an acceptable part of the bargain, provided that the party in power rules wisely, manages public money properly, respects established customs and protocols, and does not treat the public with contempt.

In general, most voters go to the polls and cast their ballots in favour of a political party. The quality of the individual candidate is generally not a mitigating factor. One is voting for the ticket and the ads run by the political parties re-enforce that principle.

This bargain has now become the norm and unless one is willing to get involved in local party politics, the average elector has little say in the choice of candidates. Furthermore, the electoral system is designed to promote the interests of the large national parties, which makes it virtually impossible for independents to get elected.

Many calls have been made for electoral reform and all too often elaborate schemes have been brought forward and have quickly disappeared from the radar screens. Reform need not be complicated and giving electors the option of voting for None-of-the-Above would transform the political scene in more ways than we can imagine.

What it requires is a serious coast-to-coast demand by electors to have that change enacted into law. The ball is now in our court. We have that power, but is there a serious will to exercise it?

Categories: Opinion

About Author

Irwin Rapoport

Irwin Rapoport, a resident of Montreal, studied history at Concordia and served as a school Commissioner with the former Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. He has long-standing interests in environmental issues, the protection of individual rights and freedoms in Quebec and Canada, and education.

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